Writing the Career of Your Heart

I’m guest posting at Savvy Authors today about making choices.

Once upon a time (like, five whole years ago) aspiring authors talked about writing the books of their hearts. When the discussion arose, the writers debated the relative merits of BotH (books of the heart) versus commercial books. Writing to the market– or so the conversation went– presupposed a better chance of commercial acceptability, but a BotH would be more likely to achieve breakout success with its passion and originality.

With the rise of self-publishing, the debate has waned. BotHs that wouldn’t stand a chance in New York are finding life in the e world. The angst of spec writing has lessened now that writers have more options for “unwanted” stories. Instead, I think the conversation is about writing the CAREER of your heart…

Read more at Savvy Authors, which BTW is a great place to learn more about your writing career options.


November is National Novel Writing Month when writers across the country and around the world will embark on an exciting 30-day, 50k writing adventure and… I won’t be joining them.

I am a firm believer in daily word counts. I have the Excel spreadsheet to prove it. And I find great motivation in externally imposed deadlines. But for some reason, NaNo doesn’t work for me.

I’ve done NaNo twice. Both times I hit the 50k goal in the allotted time period. And then I went dark for the month after. Not good. Partly I think it’s the timing. I make a lot of my Christmas goodies, which cuts into my writing creativity. Also, I think the validation of having done the 50k in 30 days is a false pressure relief on my writing brain. 50k is only half a book for me. That’s halfway, and halfway is great, but it’s not done. So the celebration doesn’t feel quite right.

But I still love NaNo, for the enthusiasm and the camaraderie. If you’re not taking part, here are a couple ways to enjoy NaNo:

1. Call all your NaNo-ing writer friends with fake urgent messages from their day jobs.

2. Post tweets at 10:30 a.m. saying you already got your 3k done for the day.

3. Tell your family you ARE doing NaNo and disappear from their lives while they cook turkeys and do the Christmas shopping.

No wait, those are all evil ways to enjoy NaNo. You can use NaNo for good even if you can’t NaNo all the way.

1. Follow the #NaNo tag on Twitter and cheer your fellow writers. They’ll cheer you when your time comes.

2. If you only have a couple days free in your schedule, dedicate the same energy the NaNoers do, just for those days. Or, if your writing schedule didn’t work out for first drafting, brainstorm or revise with that same intensity.

3. If you’ve never tried NaNo but would like to, use this month as a training session. Learn how to plan your days so you can get 1667 words done. And most importantly, take what you learn and apply it to the OTHER 11 months of the year. Then you’ll be ready for NaNo next year.

4. And remember, writing is a marathon. A zombie marathon, where you have to keep moving or they get you. But it is also sometimes a race-to-the-train sprint. And sometimes it is a grizzly attack where all you can do is curl into a ball and hope the pain goes away before you die. Mastering all the speeds of your story is the work of a lifetime, not just one month.

Happy writing, whether it’s 50k or 50 pages!

After the conference

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Missing all my friends in New York
Mood: Wistful

As you read this, about 2,000 romance writers are converging on New York City for the annual Romance Writers of America conference. Con attendees will take workshop, “network” at the bar, giggle too much, and get blisters in the miles of hotel corridors.

In the weeks leading up to a major conference, the blogging world, Facebook and Twitter are full of advice for eager newbies and old war horses trying to be more efficient with their conference time and money. The advice runs the gamut from the eminently practical (“stay hydrated” and “bring a sweater; some rooms are cold!”) to the sublime (“RWA is not a popularity conference. Which makes it easier to win”) to the ridiculous (“Remember, editors and agents are human too”; no they aren’t, if they hold the life of your work in their hands, that makes them demi-gods at least).

But I haven’t seen as much on post-conference advice. To rectify that…

1. Don’t lose momentum.
Conferences are exhausting. With the prep time before you leave, the travel stress, and the forced extroversion (not to mention the laundry and dirty dishes that mysteriously piled up at home while you were gone) it’s easy to come back from conference utterly drained. Take some time to recover, but don’t let it derail you for more days than the conference itself, which can easily happen.

2. SUBMIT your requested work.
The anecdotal number varies, but editors and agents all say that they get shockingly few of the manuscripts they request at conferences. Don’t be that writer. Or if you want to be that writer, don’t take away the ed/ag appointment from a writer who WILL follow up.  After conferences, there’s always a flurry of emails on writing loops asking “How long do I have to send in my story? Cuz, uh, actually, it’s not done. Really, it’s not even started.”

My answer (and not everyone agrees) is: Send it fast. It has to be good too. Not fast OR good; fast AND good. An editor or agent probably isn’t going to ding you on points if you take too long, but if she asked for it, it’s because she thinks she has a place for it.* Later, that maybe not be the case.

* Or because she’s just being nice. Which is a waste of everyone’s time. But don’t waste more time by NOT sending your work.

3. Do something with those business cards you collected.
If you followed the pre-conference advice and networked like crazy, you probably have lots of cards. Hopefully you followed good pre-con advice and jotted down a note on the card to remind you who this person was. Now to figure out what use you can make of those cards. Rather than keep scraps of paper around, you can data enter names, email addresses and the identifying feature you noted earlier into a word doc or spreadsheet for later retrieval. Send a quick email to people you want to remember so you have their addresses handy in your contact system.

4. Distribute all that swag.
You probably came home with more bookmarks, pens and plastic whatnots than you thought possible.  Contact your local romance book club or indie bookstore to see if they’d like to paw through it for the vicarious thrill. Your local RWA chapter might be interested in deconstructing the swag to see what marketing efforts seemed effective.

5. Put your favorite workshop advice to use.
Handouts and jotted notes seem to accrue more easily than mastery.  Actually TRY some of the craft, business or inspiration ideas that you learned. Also, share them with writing friends to reinforce them in your own mind. Keep a folder of only the very best (for you) of what you learned. That’s a great folder to take with you to writing retreats when you need a boost of remembered excitement.

6. Stay hydrated.
Hey, can’t hurt.

What’s your best post-conference advice? Anybody going anywhere else fun this summer? I’ll be at RomCon in Denver the first weekend of August and Authors After Dark in Philadelphia the second weekend of August. I’ll let you know if I follow my own advice!

The price of dreams

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Listening to the thunder of an approaching storm (literally and figuratively)
Mood: Antsy

I recently read an article about the regrets of the dying. The article was in response to a blog post by a palliative care worker who compiled a top five regrets list from her conversations with the dying. Both articles — and several more I found on the web after a search; the topic apparently captured the blogosphere’s imagination — were interesting and thoughtful. And all seemed to miss a crucial point:

Everybody will have some regrets.

It’s inevitable, I think. Even for someone with all the opportunities in the world, there isn’t enough time to explore every option. And for every option chosen, another option is left behind. Anyone with even a little curiosity is going to wonder about the roads not taken, and at least occasionally that wondering will be tinged with regret.

The top regret listed was not having “the courage to live a life true to myself” and not “honour[ing] even a half of their dreams.”

Sounds so easy to follow your dreams. Like the only reason those dying people hadn’t followed their dreams was because nobody had showed them a top five list of things they were going to kick themselves for later if only they had the strength and flexibility.

Maybe it will be that easy for some. Maybe they’ll read that list and say, I won’t let that happen to me. But dreams don’t come cheap.

Which is kind of funny when you consider that dreams are free every night when you sleep.

Dreams (at least the kind that cause deathbed maunderings of regret) are demanding. They take time — and, as mentioned earlier, there is never enough of that. They take resources, focus, effort. They take from other dreams. And they may or may not reward all that time and effort. The potential of the dream may be the only reward for the pursuit. And the pursuit of one dream — by its nature — will likely negate the possibility of pursuing something else.

I am so glad I’ve had the chance to pursue my dreams. I’ve even captured a few of them. But they came at a price, and I think rather than hoping for a life with no regrets at all, I will just find regrets I can live with. And die with.

I am a charcter in my own life story

Crossposted from SilkAndShadows.com
Currently working on: 100 things at once
Mood: Scattered

When writers learn about creating characters, one of the first techniques we’re taught is to assign each character a story goal, something the character desperately wants and must pursue through the course of the story. Since many of us use the start of the new year to assign ourselves some resolutions, I think we can all relate.

Next, writers are told to figure out why the character wants to reach the story goal. What is the character’s motivation?


This is where I, as the (ostensibly) lead character in my own life, get a little murky.

Why do I write?

If I do one thing this year, I want to figure out the answer to that question. See, this year is a turning point (my fellow writers will recognize that term too, and probably wince) in my writing life, and it’s time I clarified my motivation.

Why is motivation important to characters? In a story, strong motivation keeps the poor, beleaguered character on task no matter what rocks we mean writers throw at them. Wimpy motivation lets the character off the hook and he slinks home to his easy chair, never to adventure again. Booooring!

In real life… Well, in real life, I secretly do want the easy chair with a fuzzy blanket and fuzzier socks, BUT I know that strong motivation is really what will keep me reaching for my goals.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.”
– Zig Ziglar

More than a year ago, I attended a writing workshop where the speaker asked us to determine our own personal reason for writing. Other than fame and fortune. (Cue laugh track.) Everyone diligently bent their heads to their papers and scratched away. I cheated off the writer next to me.

Because I’m not sure of my motivation. I asked other writers afterward what they wrote. They had great answers:

  • I write for free therapy.
  • I write because I have to write.
  • I write so I don’t have to get a job where I wear pants.
  • I write to get the strange voices out of my head. (See reason #1.)
  • I write because I love to write.

Great as these answers are, they don’t really resonate with me. (Although I’d like to not need a job where I have to wear pants.) So I never answered the question for myself, never found the motivation that rings me like a bell. But this year, I think I’m going to be forced to figure it out.

I hope it’s a good answer.

So do you have parts of your life you don’t look at too closely? Are you happier that way, or do you want to explore those hidden depths? How many people do you think get eaten by the dragons in their hidden depths?